Yes, we’re talking about blind dates here. But thanks to the internet, going on a date with someone you’ve never met before isn’t a novelty. It’s just called dating. And it’s stressful. You want to make a good impression, but you’re also looking for subtle hints to suggest if this person could eventually sit next to you as you fall asleep at the dinner table on Thanksgiving and most Friday nights.
When planning one of these dates, you need a place that’s quiet enough to hear each other’s questions about your siblings, but interesting enough that you can smile and say “cool place” whenever there’s an awkward silence. This place should also allow you to bail after half a glass of wine if necessary, or share some food and hang out for a few hours when you discover a shared passion for trolling the comment section of music videos on Youtube. Here are 21 places that get the job done.
When your date walks through Gran Tivoli (an Italian restaurant in Nolita), down a flight of stairs in the back corner, and into this dark cocktail bar that looks like a jazz club from the ’50s, there’s going to be a window of time when they think you’re far cooler than you actually are. How long that window lasts depends on how long you can go without asking the same question twice or mentioning Magic: The Gathering, but at least you’ll start out on the right foot at Peppi’s Cellar.
Your dog’s vet told you that you’re going to hit it off with her son, but all she knows about you is that you’re not great at brushing Bruno’s teeth. So you really have no idea what you’re in for. Recommend meeting at Ainslie, which has bars on both floors inside, as well as on the open-air rooftop. You can share very good wood-fired pizza or housemade pasta at a table, or recommend standing closer to the DJ booth if you get tired of hearing about how cats are people too.
If you’re open to the possibility of staying out until 2am sharing cocktails and stories about the first time you got “drunk drunk,” go to Mister Paradise. This East Village bar starts out as a casual place to get some great cocktails, like one with Campari and fermented habanero, and then when you both decide not to respond to prearranged SOS texts from your friends, move to a booth or the all-red room in the back before it gets too crowded.
The same questions always follow awkward silences on first dates. “So have you seen any good movies recently?,” or “Where did you say you grew up again?” You won’t have to deal with those questions at Donna, though, because if your conversation hits a lull, you can just talk about how the whitewashed space looks like the church in the wedding shootout scene in Kill Bill, and after that you can try to decipher what the hieroglyphics above every cocktail on the menu mean. This is one of the best-looking bars in Williamsburg, with a huge menu of tropical drinks that should keep you occupied for a while.
The fact that you occasionally eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner and use a garbage bag for a laundry hamper may come up eventually. But for now, you’re trying to convey that you’re a classy person who likes classy things. There’s no better way to do that than with Champagne. You’ll find a lot of it at The Riddler, a West Village bar where the menu includes over 150 Champagnes as well as some food options - like an excellent sauce-heavy burger. The space is small and there’s very little room to stand, so make a reservation, and if you feel like letting the real you show at any point in the night, ask your server for a Chambong, which is available off-menu.
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, you don’t want a shoulder-to-shoulder bar where you have to shout about how your Craigslist roommates are fine, but how you can’t wait to get your own place. St Tropez is a little French spot in the West Village where you get your own table, but you can order French wine and small plates as you go, making a quick exit that much easier.
The Uptown Garrison in Washington Heights is one of the rare places that works just as well for cocktails on a Friday night as it does for an 8am coffee date when you don’t feel like committing the good hours of the day to someone you don’t know. The all-day spot a block from the A-train at 181st Street serves coffee and American food all day, and then turns into a dark, constantly-packed cocktail bar with very good pizzas and bar food, affordable cocktails, and wines on tap at night.
Park Slope isn’t just populated by married couples who’d like their four-year-olds’ finger paintings to be graded on a curve. It also has single people, and a surprising number of bars. Blueprint is our favorite cocktail spot in the neighborhood, with excellent drinks and a secret back patio that you can count on to impress someone for at least two minutes.
Meet for a drink in the backyard at LaLou, and if you make it past initial pleasantries without ranking your top ten black and white horror films, move to a table inside for dinner. If things don’t go quite so well, then say goodbye to your date, and when you’re sure he’s around the corner, sit at the bar for dinner by yourself. Either way, ask the friendly staff for recommendations from the natural wine list, and try the fried olives with garlic aioli, which is one of the best drinking snacks in the city.
If you or your date has an interest in wine beyond rosé at the beach and having seen Sideways, then share some wine flights and oysters and beef tartare at Terroir in Tribeca. The massive wine list is annotated with quotes and facts, and should keep you entertained during lulls between discussing Samson and Kennedy (your childhood golden retrievers).
You’re not totally sure why you were asked to pick a place near Times Square, but all you can do is pick a great bar and hope for the best. Suggest The Polynesian, a tiki-themed rooftop cocktail spot from the people behind Carbone and The Grill. The cocktails, which are served in mugs shaped like skulls and treasure chests, are fantastic, and the big outdoor terrace is one of our favorite places to drink in Midtown. If things go well, consider getting a table inside and sharing a tower of very good bar snacks.
Porchlight is a huge cocktail bar in Chelsea that always seems to be just the right amount of crowded. You can usually get your own table, but the dark space also has some communal seating and a huge bar area filled with dates and big groups. This place makes very good cocktails, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s a room in the back where people play Jenga and eat Cajun bar food.
L’Accolade is a wine bar in the West Village that’s ideal for first dates for a few key reasons. They take reservations, have lots of seating, and offer Happy Hour every day. But most importantly, they serve natural wine. Whatever your feelings are towards this style of winemaking, it’s useful to have logical opportunities to bring it up when there are awkward silences between playing the name game and talking about how you wish you had majored in history. Everyone seems to have strong opinions on the matter, whether or not they know much about it.
Thursday night is a time block that you may not want to risk on someone you’ve never met. But you also don’t want to meet someone at a bar when you’ll be the only ones there. Cafe Standard would be a good place to make your next 6pm-on-a-Monday-night date feel a little less weird. The bar in the East Village Standard Hotel is ideal for early evening drinks and bites, when you also won’t have to compete for a seat with the Italian tourists in leather trench coats who tend to fill the space at peak times.
D.O.C. feels like a Sardinian bed and breakfast where the elderly owner smiles and nods as you taste the house wine and local cheeses. It’s a very cozy Italian wine bar that’s great for a low-key date in Williamsburg. The big Italian wine list has affordable options by the glass and carafe, and there’s a large selection of cheeses and charcuterie. And housemade pasta if you decide to stay.
Bar Goto is a small, dark Japanese-inspired bar with some of the best drinks on the Lower East Side. Have a martini with cherry blossom in it and impress your date with the kind of chicken wings you would never expect to find in a fancy cocktail bar like this. You need at least one order - although two would be more impressive.
If you both happen to be huge Rangers fans who love wings and light beer, then there are a ton of bars where you can get to know each other in Midtown. But for a more low-key place where you won’t have to awkwardly ignore people cursing at the TV, we’d recommend Faces & Names. In fact, it’s one of the only places we’d send you on a first date in Midtown.
It’s not socially acceptable (or advisable) to invite a first date to your living room. But it is more than acceptable to tell them to meet you at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a Soho wine bar that feels like a very nice living room filled with tasteful wallpaper and plenty of comfortable velvet chairs. This is one of our favorite wine bars in the city, where you can share some small plates at the bar or small candlelit tables.
Regardless of whether you ever intend to see this person again, at least you know that meeting him at Leyenda won’t be a waste of your time. All of the mezcal and rum drinks at this dark Carroll Gardens cocktail bar are great, and if you lose interest in whoever’s sitting across from you, you can focus on the very good small plates in front of you.
You could stick around Amelie for a full dinner, but we prefer it for Happy Hour, when you can try half glasses of any three wines on the menu for $12. Whether you get seats at the long bar or any of the high-tops in the narrow space, French servers will bring you tastes of various wines and offer curated wine flights that you should definitely accept. You can share some mussels and tartare if he passes your rigorous initial screening criteria (of actually looking like his app picture).